30 January 2011

AU appoints Mugabe mediator in Ivory Coast crisis

The African Union has appointed Robert Mugabe as a mediator in the Ivory Coast crisis. The mind boggles. Perhaps he'll use it as an opportunity prepare to flee there when the Zimbabwe people rise up like those of Egypt and Tunisia to toss him out.

AU appoints Mugabe mediator in Ivory Coast crisis – The Zimbabwe Mail:
TYRANT Robert Mugabe is among African leaders chosen to mediate in the Ivory Coast crisis, it has emerged.

The African Union decided to appoint Mugabe and a panel of leaders to join Prime Minister Raila Odinga in the Ivory Coast crisis.

The panel includes Presidents Jacob Zuma (South Africa), Jonathan Goodluck (Nigeria), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) and the President of Mauritania among others and Ping said the mediation already undertaken by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga was part of the building stones towards achieving a realizable goal of peace in Ivory Coast.

26 January 2011


Stability is an important and valuable quality in a country, except when it isn't. Stable countries promote peace, development and freedom, except when they don't.

How do we know whether they do or don't?

By believing what the US State Department tells us, that's how.

Sam PF's Journal - Good news!:
Good news from Egypt - the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak is stable, according to Hillary Clinton. Despite the courage of tens of thousands - possibly as many as 750,000 across the country according to some reports - of ordinary Egyptians in taking to the streets to protest against the brutality, corruption and grinding poverty brought by the Mubarak regime, thank God they are doomed to failure! No threat of unpredictable democracy coming to this strategically crucial country (Arabs being, after all, unfit for democracy). No danger of the US losing one of their most important client thugs in the region. Who apparently, also according to Clinton, is eagerly looking for ways of benefiting the people he has held down and preyed upon for the past nearly 30 years.

So clearly stability is important in Egypt.

Where is it not important? Where is instability desirable and needing to be promoted?

Why, in Belarus, of course.

Notes from a Common-place Book: The World Out There (3):
One doesn't hear much about Belarus these days. What is reported is usually some variant along the theme that President Alexander Lukashenko is nasty autocrat, indeed dubbed 'Europe's last dictator,' who perversely and resolutely refuses to follow the script we have prepared for the post-Soviet republics. The current controversy centers around the recent election which saw a turnout reported in excess of 90%, with Lukashenko receiving 79% of the vote. Protesters tried to storm the Parliament. The police responded in force and hundreds were arrested. Eurocrats--excluded from monitoring the process-dismissed it as 'flawed.' The fact is that Lukashenko does not pretty-up well. And he does not care.

As one commentator puts it:

Belarus: Still No Country For Sold Men : Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture:
But Lukashenko, whose government was called the “last dictatorship in Europe” by the U.S. government, claimed that the election was free and fair and vowed to maintain order. By now he knows what he is against. He has said in the past, “In our country, there will be no pink or orange, or even banana revolution.” More recently he said some people in the West think that Belarus is ready for a color-coded revolution, but they are not getting any; “all these coloured revolutions are pure and simple banditry.”

So, now we know that there will be no banditry in Egypt (thank Mubarak), but it's such a pity that there won't be banditry in Belarus.

And the "orange shift" in Tunisia was doubtless a mistake.

Neil Clark: Why did we never know how rotten Tunisia was?:
Tunisia stands at number 143 out of 179 countries when it comes to freedom of the press. It's a place, where, according to a 2008 Amnesty International report, human rights abuses by its security forces 'continue unabated and are committed with impunity'.

Yet if you've been living in the west, and getting your news from the mainstream media, you'll have been cheerfully oblivious to all the nasty, undemocratic things that were going on in the northernmost country in Africa, a country that many of us have visited for beach holidays in Hammamet and Jerba.

And back to Belarus:

Neil Clark: Letter from Minsk: Belarus- a country unspoilt by capitalism:
A woman sits bolt upright in the middle of the night. She jumps out of bed and rushes to the bathroom to look in the medicine cabinet. Then, she runs into the kitchen and opens the refrigerator. Finally, she dashes to the window and looks out into the street. Relieved, she returns to the bedroom. Her husband asks, “What's wrong with you?” “I had a terrible nightmare,” she says. “I dreamed we could still afford to buy medicine, that the refrigerator was absolutely full, and that the streets were safe and clean. I also dreamed that you had a job, that we could afford to pay our gas and electricity bills.”
“How is that a nightmare?” asks her husband. The woman shakes her head, “I thought the communists were back in power.”

That Bulgarian joke, as told by Maria Todorova in the Guardian and now doing the rounds across eastern Europe, doesn’t work here in Minsk. This is a capital city where the streets are safe and clean, where ordinary people can still afford to buy medicine and basic foodstuffs and where the unemployment rate is less than 1 per cent. It’s the side of Belarus you won’t read much about.

And let's not confuse the issue still further by talking about Venezuela.

If you can't decide which countries need "stability" and which need "regime change", you're probably worrying unnecessarily about things that don't concern you. Just leave it all in the safe and competent hands of the US State Department. After all, they know

24 January 2011

Civilized and uncivilized responses to pirates

For some years now piracy has been endemic off the Horn of Africa and one of the strange cultural phenomena of our day, which probably deserves some anthropological study, is the ambivalent Western response to piracy, which ranges from the romanticism of International Talk-like-a-pirate Day to the crude vengefulness described by The Western Confucian: The Republic of Korea's Civilized Response to Somali Piracy:
Pirates though they may be (or have been), they are worthy of the dignified treatment these stories report is being afforded to the dead — S. Korea to Hand Bodies of Pirates Over to Somalia — and to the living — Pirates may be flown to Korea for punishment. 'Piracy is an issue where universal jurisdiction is applied,' said a government official, quoted in the second article. 'There will be no legal barriers to punish them because it is an international crime against the Korean people.'

Compare that manly, civilized response to the barbarism of the cheering when suspected pirates 'were 'set free' in a tiny inflatable raft, with no navigation equipment, 350 miles off the coast of Yemen' (to agonizingly die of thirst) by one of the blogosphere's more annoying personalities — Rod Dreher Supports Extra-Judicial Execution. 'Off you go, lads! Enjoy the sailing!' he lisped.

And one could say that the Somali pirates are simply exercising their right to a non-statist freemarket dream.

21 January 2011

Book reviews: two whodunits

I was given a whole bunch of whodunits for Christmas, and have gradually been working my way through them all as bed-time reading.

The LeopardThe Leopard by Jo Nesbø

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the third book I have read by Jo Nesbø, where the protagonist is Oslo detective Harry Hole. The book opens with Harry on indefinite leave, hiding out in the opium dens of Hong Kong, and being brought back to solve a serial murder case -- two women have been found dead, drowned in their own blood.

I haven't read the book immediately preceding this one in the series, The snowman, which apparently explains why Harry was in Hong Kong, and perhaps one needs to read that to understand what happens in this novel, but I found it rather disappointing. The first book I read about Harry Hole, The redeemer I thought pretty good, the best of the flood of Scandinavian whodunits I'd read to date. So what was wrong with this one?

I suspect that Jo Nesbø has been influenced by the success of Stieg Larsson, and has been trying to imitate Larsson's style, and it doesn't quite come off. In most whodunits, the reader is exposed to clues as the detectives are, and has to work out the most likely suspects based on the same information, and that is part of the fun of reading whodunits. In this book, however, the reader has more knowledge than the detectives, and thus can work out the primary suspect long before they do. I won't go into the possible reasons for this, as that would probably be a spoiler.

In addition, Nesbø comes perilously close to jumping the shark by giving Harry Hole not one, but three near-death experiences. The book ends as it begins, with Harry Hole retiring to obscurity. I don't think that's a spoiler, but I do think that this time it's probably best if he stays there.

Wednesday's Child (Inspector Banks, #6)Wednesday's Child by Peter Robinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A child is abducted from her mother's home by a couple posing as social workers, and while the police are looking for her the body of a murdered man is discovered. A good read.

View all my reviews

These two books provide an interesting contrast between British and Scandinavian whodunits. I'd read some of Peter Robinson's later books about Yorkshire detective Alan Banks, and recently a lot of the earlier ones have been reprinted, in more compact editions (take up less shelf space) and they also seem to be available fairly cheaply, so I've been starting from the beginning and gradually working through them.

Like Harry Hole, Alan Banks drinks and smokes, but unlike the protagonists in so many of the Scandinavian whodunits, including Harry Hole, he isn't an alcoholic. Earlier generations of detective fiction usually pitted talented amateur detectives against bumbling incompetent policemen (Conand Doyle, Agatha Christie) or else the police admired the talents of the amateur (Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton).

Robinson belongs to the more realistic version, where the protagonist is a police detective and an ordinary human being with ordinary human failings, with strengths as well as weaknesses. I don't know much about police procedure, but Alan Banks is at least credible. Harry Hole, however, stretches the limits of credibility, though not in the same way that the earlier talented amateur fictional detectives did. One simply cannot imagine the Norwegian police putting so much time and money and effort into bringing back a washed-up alcoholic ex-ace detective from the other side 0of the world to solve a murder mystery that they cannot solve without him.

I try to imagine a sequel.

Harry Hole in the intensive care unit of a home for recovering alcoholics, being consulted by rival factions of the Norwegian police and Interpol, who have to bribe the doctors to delay Harry's recovery by giving him stimulants to bring him out of his coma for long enough to tell them howe to catch the villains, and coming out of his coma on his own for long enough to foil the villains intent of switching off his life-support system.

18 January 2011

Hijacking words: Urban Dictionary: Communitarianism

Having at one time been an editor of academic texts I am interested in words and meaning, and especially in the way words are sometimes used to obscure and confuse meaning rather than to communicate meaning. Words can sometimes be "hijacked" or "skunked". They are hijacked when their meaning is twisted or perverted to mean something else. They are "skunked" when they are used by so many people to mean so many different things that you can never be sure what a person means by them unless they give a definition every time they use it. One example is "liberal" and "liberalism", and that these words have been skunked can be clearly seen in the two preceding posts.

"Communitarian" and "communitarianism", on the other hand, have apparently been hijacked, at least by some people. I've blogged about this before here and here.

Communitarianism is a fairly new word, but the concept was developed by Catholic anarchists like Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin and Ammon Hennessy to distinguish Christian anthropology from modernist secular anthropologies like individualism and collectivism. Even though there wasn't a specific word for it, the concept has been around at least as long as Christianity has, and I've described it, with quotations from Orthodox theologians, in Love is the measure: Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker | Khanya.

I didn't realise how bad it had got, however, until I read this: Urban Dictionary: Communitarianism:

buy communitarianism mugs, tshirts and magnets

n. The belief that a society is greater than the sum of its parts, and that the members of an organization ought to work toward improving the organization. Often accused to be 'communist' or 'fascist'.

Communitarianism is perceived to be evil because it opposes the individualistic doctrine of our society.

I find it difficult to see how anyone could take such a "definition" seriously. For a start, "accused to be" is illiterate. The correct English idiom is "accused of being", and "accused to be" is a solecism. Anyone who writes English that badly is not competent to write dictionary definitions.

The next problem is that we are not told the identity of those who make these accusations, nor are we told the identity of those who "perceive it to be evil", nor are we told which society is meant by "our" society. But I think it is safe to assume that those who make the accusations and perceive communitarianism in this way are as ignorant as the writer of the definition.

My attention was drawn to this in a blog post by James Highham, whose blog I read fairly regularly, and find interesting, though I don't always agree with everything he says, and in this instance, of course, I emphatically disagree.

nourishing obscurity : Four Great Lies:
The Fourth Lie – the “third way” – is an attempt to bring people in by the back door to the dark side of the duality and it utilizes the First Lie to good effect. Thus we get “communitarianism”, perverting the concept of local community and having a vast number of federalist controlled local communities, each under the influence and rubber stamping power of a Common Purpose graduate. Leading beyond authority, i.e. assuming powers which are not yours to assume and being answerable only to the oligarchy in the centre.

The thought of Dorothy Day being part of an "oligarchy at the centre" really is too much.

17 January 2011

Christian and liberal?

In a recent comment on this blog Mark Richardson of Australia expressed the view that Christianity and liberalism were incompatible: Notes from underground: Clarissa's Blog: Being Hated by Conservatives vs Being Hated by Liberals:
I'm a little surprised that you are both an orthodox deacon and someone who appears to identify with liberalism.

Liberalism is the replacement philosophy for Christianity. It is founded on the idea that the good in life is to be a self-creating, autonomous individual.

What matters to a liberal is that we are 'liberated' from impediments to choosing as we will. Therefore, the sexual revolution is thought of as a good thing by liberals as it liberated individuals from an older Christian morality.

The liberal concept of freedom, in other words, is incompatible with the Christian concept of freedom.

I recently read the biography of Peter Brown, the former leader of the former Liberal Party of South Africa, and reviewed it on my other blog here.

Reading Peter Brown's biography prompted some reflection on just what it was that made me get off the fence of a theoretical political neutrality and actually become a card-carrying Liberal. Though I had been sympathetic towards the Liberal Party since the age of 12 (when it had been founded) and urged my mother to vote for them when I was too young to vote myself, I thought that it was better, as a Christian, not to actually join a political party, but to maintain a certain critical distance from all of them (as I do now).

I did have a brief flirtation with the Progressive Party soon after it was founded, when a friend invited me to a meeting and I was carried away by the rhetoric of their leader, Jan Steytler. I even attended their founding congress as an observer, where they adopted their policy of a qualified franchise, which basically meant giving votes to the rich and educated, regardless of colour, rather than the current Nationalist policy of votes for whites only. I had some misgivings about that. While I was still at school I had read a novel by Neville Shute, In the wet, in which he had described a system of multiple voting. It made sense to me at the time. It gave everyone a say in running the country, but avoided the main weakness (as it seemed) of democracy -- counting heads with no regard for what is in them. I tried to advocate this idea at the Progressive party congress, but no one was interested, so I lost interest in the Progressives.

When I went to the University of Natal at Pietermaritzburg in 1963 I actually met some real live liberals, and attended some of their meetings (as opposed to just reading their election pamphlets and other literature, which was the only contact I had had previously). The Liberals advocated "one man one vote". I thought it better than the Progressive qualified franchise, but still thought that a multiple voting system would be better.

What finally made me join was a combination of three factors that convinced me that the Liberal Party policy of one-man, one vote was right. The first of these was my theological studies at the university. The second was the people I met at rural branches of the Liberal Party, and the third was attending Evensong at St Alphege’s Anglican Church in Scottsville. Theology, political activism and worship. My theological studies convinced me that since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, no one is qualified to hold political power over another, and certainly neither education nor wealth (the basis of the Progressive qualified franchise) qualified one to do so. Neither did race (the basis of the Nationalist whites-only franchise).

The peasants who belonged to the Liberal Party in the rural areas were, most of them, under threat of ethnic cleansing since they lived in “black spots”, and without votes they were simply political footballs of Nationalist ideology, and most of them would not have qualified to vote under the Progressive Party policy. And those who devised the evil and unjust policy of apartheid would all have qualified to vote, but their wealth and education did nothing, absolutely nothing, to prevent them from promulgating evil and unjust laws. Some of the Nat legislators had PhDs. It was the poor and oppressed who had some moral sense, and a better grasp of political reality.

So though I could truthfully say that I had been a Liberal Party sympathiser from the age of 12, when I first saw a banner announcing the formation of the party, it was not until another 12 years had passed, at the age of 24, that I saw the need to become fully committed as a party member.

And the kind of thinking that led me to that conclusion has been very well expressed by G.K. Chesterton, when he said,

I was brought up a Liberal, and have always believed in democracy, in the elementary liberal doctrine of a self-governing humanity. If any one finds the phrase vague or threadbare, I can only pause for a moment to explain that the principle of democracy, as I mean it, can be stated in two propositions. The first is this: that the things common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to any men. Ordinary things are more valuable than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary. Man is something more awful than men; something more strange. The sense of the miracle of humanity itself should be always more vivid to us than any marvels of power, intellect, art, or civilization. The mere man on two legs, as such, should be felt as something more heartbreaking than any music and more startling than any caricature. Death is more tragic even than death by starvation. Having a nose is more comic even than having a Norman nose.

This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately. And the second principle is merely this: that the political instinct or desire is one of these things which they hold in common. Falling in love is more poetical than dropping into poetry. The democratic contention is that government (helping to rule the tribe) is a thing like falling in love, and not a thing like dropping into poetry. It is not something analogous to playing the church organ, painting on vellum, discovering the North Pole (that insidious habit), looping the loop, being Astronomer Royal, and so on. For these things we do not wish a man to do at all unless he does them well. It is, on the contrary, a thing analogous to writing one's own love-letters or blowing one's own nose. These things we want a man to do for himself, even if he does them badly. I am not here arguing the truth of any of these conceptions; I know that some moderns are asking to have their wives chosen by scientists, and they may soon be asking, for all I know, to have their noses blown by nurses. I merely say that mankind does recognize these universal human functions, and that democracy classes government among them. In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves--the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed.

And it was such things that convinced me that the racist elitism of the Nationalists and the economic elitism of the Progressives was not for me, and so I became a Liberal.

Of course not all members of the Liberal Party were Christians. There were Jews, Muslims and Hindus as well. There were atheists and agnostics. They all had their own reasons for joining, and supporting liberal principles and policies like the the rule of law and civil rights and being opposed to authoritarian government and apartheid and ethnic cleansing. I cannot speak for the others, but I can say what led me, as a Christian, to join the Liberal Party.

So I hope that answers Mark Richardson's question.

I also disagree with almost every one of Mark's contentions about the nature of liberalism and what constitutes liberalism. I am a political liberal, not a theological, economic or philosophical liberal. And as a political liberal I see the freedom advocated by liberalism as being quite limited. It is limited to freedom from being oppressed by other men. It has nothing to do with being freed from morality, because part of morality, or at least Christian morality (as I see it) is that we should not oppress others. As our Lord Jesus Christ said "All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets" Matt 7:12. Anyone who wants to be freed from that aspect of morality is not a liberal but a fascist. Unless you want to be detained without trial yourself, then, don't detain others without trial -- and that applies equally to John Vorster Square, Lubyanka, and Guantanamo Bay.

For more, see here.

Belarus: Zimbabwe in Europe or socialist paradise?

I've just read two contradictory accounts of Belarus in blogs that I read. I've never been to Belarus, so have no firsthand experience of the place.

Neil Clark: Letter from Minsk: Belarus- a country unspoilt by capitalism:
This is a capital city where the streets are safe and clean, where ordinary people can still afford to buy medicine and basic foodstuffs and where the unemployment rate is less than 1 per cent. It’s the side of Belarus you won’t read much about.

And then there is this:

Clarissa's Blog: American Writers and Actors Helping Belarus:
As if that weren't enough suffering, since 1994 Belarus has been ruled by a fascist dictator Alexander Lukashenko. He has been condemned by the EU for horrible human rights violations on a variety of occasions and has been made notorious by his anti-semitic statements. Lukashenko can afford not to care about that, though, since his regime is supported by Russia. Russia isn't interested in being surrounded by strong nation-states and has been punishing its neighbors for daring to seek independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

And then in Russia last year renowned TV anchor Vladimir Pozner declared that that Orthodoxy is a reason for economic failures and the low living standards of Russians. Partiarch Kirill disagrees: Interfax-Religion:
'Today our life is worse not because we are Orthodox, but because we ruined our country and spiritual foundation of our life two times during one century. Protestant countries live better not because they are Protestant, but because these countries have not been at war, they developed their economy staying in rather favorable conditions,' the Patriarch summed up and wished so that God 'gives us reason to save our political, social stability and develop ourselves both spiritually and economically.'
My own observation is that in the early 1990s Russia was overrun by snake oil salesmen from the West, evangelising for the Western religion of the free market system, which had become the established church in the USA and UK under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. A lot of Russians bought this lie, and the new god didn't live up to the claims made for it.

Perhaps Belarus didn't buy into that to quite the same extent. but it also seems to have retained an authoritarian government.

In the 1990s both Russia and South Africa moved away from authoritarian government, and this was accompanied by a huge increase in the crime rate. A Russian geologist living in Johannesburg at the time told me, when I was about to visit Moscow, that the crime was far worse in Moscow than in Johannesburg. But it makes me wonder: is the Mafia the necessary price we have to pay for freedom? In Russia the Mafia operated in the private sector. In Zimbabwe for the last 20 years it has been the government. I can't make up my mind about Belarus.

And whatever the case may be, it seems to be a highly disingenuous effort of misdirection to try to blame it on Orthodoxy.

16 January 2011

Damage Control: the independent homeland of BapetiKosovoti

No country in their right mind recognised the the independence of Mickey Mouse apartheid republics like Bophutatswana and Transkei, but those who created the independent homeland republic of BapetiKosovoti are now hastening to do damage control. I doubt that even Evita Bezuidenhout would be willing to help them out at top spin-doctor rates. Perhaps they could call in Dame Edna Everage as a consutant?

Damage Control in the Balkans by Nebojsa Malic -- Antiwar.com:
During the 1999 attack on what was then Yugoslavia, the BBC was one of the vocal NATO cheerleaders (its correspondent from the NATO HQ later got the job as Alliance spokesman). So it is both amazing and infuriating to hear Alistair Burnett, editor of BBC’s The World Tonight, talk about 'reassessing Kosovo' today.

On one hand, Burnett is refreshingly frank when he says:

'The offensive against Serbia in 1999 was presented by western leaders as a humanitarian act to prevent widespread ethnic cleansing of Kosovo’s Albanian population by Slobodan Milosevic’s forces. This was widely accepted by western commentators at the time and since then reporting of the conflict in western media has been largely been framed as a story of Albanian victims and Serb aggressors.'

Notice he doesn’t mention that every word of this reasoning, and the ensuing media coverage, was a lie. What he says is merely that 'some of the recent commentary… has challenged this account and questioned whether the intervention and support for independence were misguided.'

Yes, all three of Tony Blair's wars when he was in office were "misguided", to say the very least. And Nato was, and remains, the North Atlantic Terorist Organisation.

Hat-tip to A conservative blog for peace.

15 January 2011

Clarissa's Blog: Being Hated by Conservatives vs Being Hated by Liberals

One of the characteristics of the emerging postmodern age is that it is an age of communication without community. Marshall McLuhan's global village is divided and faction-ridden. Over the last 20 years of participating in the internet (with a small i) I have discovered that one comes face to face with US culture in a way that one never did before. Now places like China are rapidly catching up, but in 1991 it was in the US that more people had modems, and connected to bulletin boards, and disseminated their opinions more widely than ever before.

And today I read a couple of blog posts that encapsulated this experience.

Clarissa's Blog: Being Hated by Conservatives vs Being Hated by Liberals:
There is a difference, though, between getting tons of hits from people who come from liberal sites that post angry rebuttals of my posts and visitors from the conservative blogs that attempt to do the same. Visitors from progressive blogs leave comments, argue, initiate discussions, offer evidence in support of their opinions. I might disagree with them, but I am forced to recognize that their comments are interesting to read. Conservative readers come by, gawp, and, at best, leave a comment of the 'I-know-this-is-somehow-wrong-but-I-don't-have-the-brains-to-explain-why' variety. Their writing is stilted and full of spelling and grammar mistakes. They think that calling one 'a Jew whore' and 'an autie retard' is a powerful intellectual argument.

I explained before why I find any conservative position to be unsustainable on the level of reason and logic. It is not surprising to me that visitors who come here from conservative websites turn out to be very unintelligent and incapable of maintaining a discussion. They don't really have opinions, that's the problem. They have emotional outbursts whose underlying causes they are able neither to identify not to control.

And I have to say I agree. In cyberspace, at least, American "liberals" tend to come across as very illiberal and intolerant. But when you read the arguments of American "conservatives", it becomes almost understandable.

And then there was this: A Spell for Refreshment of the Spirit: Civility: A Blast from the Past:
Everyone is talking about civility today. I'm not American, so before the tragic shooting recently I hadn't been closely following the ever-deepening political divide south of the border. However, for a long time I have noticed the same deterioration of civility in our society in general.

The thing that amazes me most about US politics is that there is so little difference between the two main parties, yet the closer they are to each other, the more exaggerated the rhetoric with which their supporters attack each other.

Republican supporters attack Democrat supporters as if they will leave no baby unaborted, yet in 8 years Bush did not stop abortion. Democrat supporters attack Republican supporters as if they were intent on invading every country in the world, yet Obama still hasn't brought US troops back from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The more closely they resemble each other, the more viciously they attack each other.

Of course the US doesn't have a monopoly on incivility and motor-mouth politicians. America has its Sarah Palin, and we have our Julius Malema. But America seems to have more, and more vociferous, and more incivil extremists than most other countries, at least on the public internet.

There are some areas in which I would support American "conservative" policies, but would be reluctant to do so, because the American "conservatives" who advocate such policies seem to be such hate-filled people, and to advocate those policies from a position of hatred rather than love.

There are some policies advocated by American "liberals" that I think are misguided, and some that I think are stupid, and some that I think are detestable and evil and decidedly illiberal, but on the whole the people who seem to advocate them seem to have their hearts in the right place, even if their heads seem all screwed up. And that reminds me of what a friend of mine once said:

"It is better to do wrong for the sake of love than to insist on doing right because of my lack of it."

12 January 2011

Twitter strikes a blow for freedom

There's quite a lot of talk about "big government" these days, so kudos to Twitter for striking a blow against it and standing up for Wikileaks. Twitter’s Response to WikiLeaks Subpoena Should Be the Industry Standard | Wired.com:
Twitter and other companies, notably Google, have a policy of notifying a user before responding to a subpoena, or a similar request for records. That gives the user a fair chance to go to court and try and quash the subpoena. That’s a great policy. But it has one fatal flaw. If the records request comes with a gag order, the company can’t notify anyone. And it’s quite routine for law enforcement to staple a gag order to a records request.

That’s what makes Twitter’s move so important. It briefly carried the torch for its users during that crucial period when, because of the gag order, its users couldn’t carry it themselves. The company’s action in asking for the gag order to be overturned sets a new precedent that we can only hope that other companies begin to follow.

09 January 2011

Kill the boer, kill the congresswoman

Last year Julius Malema (whom some refer to as Kiddi Amin) of the ANC Youth League was criticised for singing a song described in the media as "Kill the boer, kill the farmer". And shortly after the controversy AWB leader Eugene Terreblanche was killed on his farm, and a couple of his farm workers were charged with murder. Some said, and others implied, that Malema's singing of the song incited them. I'd still like to know the actual words of the song, and whether they do say what the media report them as saying.

But now a similar controversy has broken out about American politician Sarah Palin, who seems inclined to shoot off her mouth in loose cannon fashion as much as Julius Malema.

She posted a map on her Facebook page, showing gunsights aimed at a map with several American politicians that she wanted taken out, electorally, one hopes. But now one of them, Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, has been taken out, literally, by gunfire, and Sarah Palin, like Julius Malema, is being accused of inciting this with her target map.

There is often a big gap between rhetoric and reality, and sometimes people say things metaphorically that they do not mean to be taken literally, yet there are often people who do take them literally. And now the Facebook page is full of accusations against Sarah Palin similar to those made against Julius Malema last year when Eugene Terreblanche was killed.

08 January 2011

Trainers, sneakers, plimsolls and tackies

One of the perennial topics of discussion in the alt.usage.english newsgroup is the different versions of books published in the USA and in Britain, and the kinds of things that are changed by publishers on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the most frequently-discussed examples is the Harry Potter books, and someone recently gave this example:

I purchased one of the HP books in England and had to deal with the British terminology, much of which I knew, but I had to ask my daughter, who was living there at the time what "trainers" and "a jumper" are. (For those who don't know, they are "sneakers" and "a sweater", pull-over I think.)

When I went to the UK to study in 1966 I faced a somewhat different problem: what I knew as "tackies", "sand shoes" or "tennis shoes" were apparently called "plimsolls" in England. I visited a family I knew who had moved to England a few months before I went there, and their children, who had been to school in Pietermaritzburg, spoke of their consternation are being asked by a teacher at their English school to put their "plimsolls" on. They simply had no idea what he was talking about. And I wouldn't have either. I knew plimsolls as lines painted on the sides of ships to show how much they could be loaded, depending on the temperature and salinity of the water.

It seems that in the UK they now talk about "trainers", but trainers are posher than "plimsolls". In South Africa, however, "tackies" covers the whole range, from basic to posh, and here is a shop in a local mall that sells the whole range, which rejoices in the name "Tekkie Town" -- the spelling is phonetic, since "tekkie" is the way most South Africans pronounce "tackie", but also the non-standard spelling can probably be registered as a trade name.

And the wares they display range from the basic rubber soles and canvas top verson seen below

to the much more fancy (and expensive) versions seen here

the more expensive ones seem to have their brand labels on the outside, as if to proclaim to the world, "Look what I can afford." But in South Africa they are all called "tackies", as are wide-tread car tyres, which are popularly known as "fat tackies".

I wonder if there will be a South African version of the Harry Potter books that, instead of "trainers" and a "jumper", have "tackies" and a "jersey".

07 January 2011

Cider mystery

Today was our second Christmas. Yesterday I went to St Nicholas of Japan Church in Brixton for Theophany (Epiphany), and today we went to St Thomas's in Sunninghill, which is on the old calendar, for Christmas. So Christmas comes twice a year. Afterwards we went to do some shopping and went to the Queens Coffee Bar and restaurant at the shopping centre for brunch. Being thirsty after the service, we ordered some cider.

As we usually do, Val ordered Savannah Light and I ordered Hunters Gold. These are probably the two most popular brands of cider in South Africa.

And as usually happens, the glass they brought for Val with the Savannah Light had half a slice of memon in it.

The waiter asked if we wanted ice, and we said no. At least he asked. At some restaurants they don't ask, and bring you a glass full of ice cubes. I've sometimes wondered if they'd do that if I ordered beer.

But he didn't ask about the lemon.

They never do.

And almost invariably, in just about every restaurant we've ordered cider in, Savannah Light comes with a slice of lemon, and Hunter's Gold comes without.

Has anyone else noticed this custom, and does anyone know its origin?

Does it happen anywhere else in the world, or with other brands of cider?

05 January 2011

Water table

Last night it rained, and this morning, though the rain had stopped, there was water running down the street. It comes from the vacant land on the left, behind the concrete fence. The fence was erected a few months ago by the railways -- the vacant land belongs to them, and lies between the road and the railway line.

When it rains the land, across the road from us, becomes waterlogged, and after a while beginds to produce water like a squeezed sponge. In the past it used to come out next to the tree in the background, and the first time it happened I thought it was a broken water main, and called the municipality to ask them to mend it. But nothing was broken. Later I walked across the vacant land, and found that it was waterlogged, where otherwise it was quite dry.

It's not just run-off from the rain. This water came several hours after the rain had stopped, and sometimes it comes several days afterwards. Once it covered the whole width of the street, and at the gutters at the edge it was a strong-flowing stream. On that occasion it had noty rained for some time, so I went out and filled buckets to water the garden with.

02 January 2011

Death in the neigbourhood

When I was in Greece in 1998 and 2000 I noticed lots of roadside shrines marking places where had been killed in motor accidents, and they were beginning to make their appearance in Albania as well. They have also been becoming more common in South Africa, especially at busy intersections, dangerous bends and blind rises and so on.

But yesterday one appeared in our quiet suburban neighbourhood, and made me wonder who or what had died, and in what circumstances.

You see, we live in a quiet cul-de-sac with no through traffic. There's only one road in and out of the neighbourhood, and a couple of months ago the city council put in a mini-traffic circle and a few speed bumps to make doubly sure that people didn't drive around like maniacs.

And then yesterday we noticed this:

It's about 10 metres from one of the new speed bumps, so it couldn't have been a vehicle travelling at high speed that crashed into the tree, and anyway, the tree seemed to be unscathed, though the vegetation around it seemed pretty well trampled.

The name on the cross was "Kat", which could be a nickname for a person, or literally a cat. Was a pet cat run over here? Possibly. Cats do sometimes dash across the road unpredictably , and even a slow-moving vehicle might not be able to stop in time. But if that is what happened, why the trampled vegetation behind the tree?

The date on it was 25 December 2010, and we went out to church on Christmas eve and again on Christmas morning, and noticed nothing untoward, either going or returning.

So the mystery remains, and someone is sad and missing Kat, whoever or whatever Kat may have been.

My very own Internet stalkers?

I seem to have got my very own Internet stalkers, or perhaps I share them with a zillion other people.

I got an e-mail this morning, with the heading:

This is pretty interesting...

and it goes on to say:

Colin Bruce sent you a private message

I keep getting messages from this "Colin Bruce Milne" saying he wants to be my "friend" on this, that or the other social network. He sends me private messages to say that he has private messages for me. But I don't know him, I've never actually talked to him or met him, he's never left a comment on my blogs, which is quite easy to do.

So why does he want to be my friend if he never talks to me, except for sending me private messages to say that he has a "private message" for me?

It's a bit like getting a slip from the post office asking you to call for a registered letter which tells you that you have a registered letter that tells you that you have a registered letter that tells you that you have a registered letter.

Why the infinite regress?

So I now find myself wondering if perhaps this "Colin Bruce Milne" is some kind of new internet species, the "professional friend". Perhaps he's not a real person, perhaps he's a 'bot. But if he is a real person, I now suspect that he gets paid a commission by conning people into joining social networks by inviting them to join the network in order to read a message to tell them that he has left them a message on another social network that they will have to join to read the message that says that he has left them a message on another social network, and if he gets enough people to join enough networks he'll qualify for the grand draw for the grand prize of a weekend in a timeshare resort in Naboomspruit, listening to salesman wittering on boringly about the benefits of timeshare.

So perhaps he's not my very own internet stalker, perhaps he's stalking other people as well, having discovered a new way to propagate spam.

He's not the only one, though.

There's another one, who sends messages saying:

I have a message for you.
Mr.John Erere

Same technique: send a message saying "I have a message for you". Well, he obviously has my address, so I'm waiting for the message, and sure enough, a couple of days later it arrives:

I have a message for you.
Mr.John Erere

What I really need is to find a way of introducing Colin Bruce Milne to Mr. John Erere.

I'm sure they'll get on like a house on fire.

I could become a professional Internet friendship broker, introducing professional friends to each other, and possibly to my old friend, Mrs Mariam Abacha, from whom I haven't heard for a long time. Perhaps I should forward the messages from Oxfam5 to Oxfam14 and vice versa, mutatis mutandis.


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